HANOVER COUNTY, Va. -- Deputy Brad Hughes and Melanie Clark said their hearts sank when they read the news that 20-year-old airman Makai Cummings lost his life while changing his tire on I-295 Monday morning. Virginia State Police said the driver who hit him did not stop.
"Knowing that that situation occurred right there," Deputy Hughes said. "It was gut wrenching for her."
"Not only the county, but the exact area where we lost my husband," Clark said.
Melanie's husband was Lt. Brad Clark of the Hanover County Fire Department. In 2018, Lt. Clark was responding to a scene on I-295 when a tractor trailer driver failed to move over and hit a firetruck. Lt. Clark and other firefighters were hit in the collision and Lt. Clark died on scene.
That crash occurred in basically the exact same spot of the highway as the fatal hit and run Monday.
When Melanie Clark and Hughes got word of airman Cumming's death, they were at a conference in Maryland sharing their stories of how their lives changed forever when another driver failed to give enough space to emergency vehicles. Deputy Clark now works for the Powhatan Sheriff's Office, but lost his legs in Chesterfield when a distracted driver hit him as he was working a traffic wreck
"Any fatality, any injury is an avoidable one, when it comes to someone failing to move over or not obeying the laws that we have in place," Clark said.
"We are trying to save lives. That's the bottom line. It starts with us making sure that everybody understands it. I don't want to see anyone have to go through what I had to go through; I don't want to see anybody had to go through what this young lady continuously goes through," Hughes said.
Both have been advocating for and educating others about the "Move Over" law in Virginia for years. It requires drivers on all Virginia highways to move over at least one lane, if safe to do so, or at least slow down, when they approach an emergency vehicle with its lights on. Starting July 1st, that law expands to all vehicles that have their emergency lights or signals engaged.
Governor Glenn Youngkin said they need help getting the word out about the new law and why it is going into effect.
"It's extremely important. It will go into effect July 1st, so we need help making sure people know this is what’s coming, and for Virginians to do the right thing, which is move over," Youngkin said Monday.
Hughes thinks the state needs to do a broader public awareness campaign.
"A lot of people do not know about this law passing. And so it takes, like I said, the public service announcements to make sure people know the upcoming laws," he said.
Beyond the law itself, both advocates are working to personalize the problem, since driving habits can change but their lives cannot.
"To see the devastation, that that one failure to comply with the law, that ripple effect that it creates, Brad will never be replaced, not in our home in our hearts," Clark said. "“We just would like to make this a personal thing where the motorists can picture their father, their mother, their sister, their brother, working on the side of the road.”
"We care so much that we're taking the time while we're up in Maryland to make sure that our Virginia folks still come home alive. We care," Hughes said.
For those wishing to work with Clark and Hughes to help spread the word about the "Move Over" law, you can contact Hughes by email (BradHughesTrafficSafety@gmail.com) and reach Clark on her Facebook group.
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